Champagne Houses to Know

And what makes their house styles taste the way they do

champagne houses featured photo

In the world of sparkling wines, there’s no denying champagne reigns supreme. Understanding the region and wines of Champagne is one thing, unpacking producer styles and their cuvées is another. To kickstart your research game, let’s survey some of the region’s most famous champagne houses, look at what characterizes their wines, and pave the way for your champagne journey.

A Recap: What does it mean to be Champagne?

Champagne can refer to the region, the style, and the protected place name. The region is located in northern France and dominated by a chalk-laden landscape, the style of this sparkling wine is characterized by the use of the champagne method, and the protected place name reserves the right to use the term champagne on the label only to those within the region operating under production guidelines (these protections have been in place since the late nineteenth century and were most recently renewed after the first world war).

What does it mean to be Champagne featured photo

With five sub-regions of the Champagne area, and nuances for days, finding a jumping off point for exploring the best champagne houses might seem daunting. There are few key concepts in the world of champagne that, when understood, can make the journey more informed, a bit easier and above all, exciting.

Growing vs. Making

There are some technical terms and aspects of wine making that are important to grasp when considering producer profiles. The first is identifying what kind of producer you’re looking at. There are a handful titles used in the Champagne region but they’re often pared down to the binary of négociant manipulant — an entity buying or sourcing grapes from elsewhere and making wine with them — and récoltant manipulant — a producer growing the grapes (estate fruit) and making the wine with them (“grower champagne” is another term you’ll frequently encounter that describes the champagnes made by a récoltant manipulant). In this article we’re focusing on champagne houses which are characterized as the former, négociant manipulants. 

Oxidative vs. Reductive

Oxidative vs. Reductive

Champagne has a nearly anthological history and typically so do its most famous houses. Hundreds of years of winemaking might make you wonder how it’s even possible to uncover a typical style, but the success of these houses — the historical keystones of the industry — is predicated on the reputation of both quality and consistency. Consistency can be referred to as “house style” and it is determined by a few key factors in the wine making process.

Most of the champagne houses we’re highlighting are production powerhouses that have vineyard holdings spanning across the region which represent the champagne grape triumvirate: pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier. And because it’s typical for entry and mid-level cuvée to be a blend of two or three, it’s the implication of oxidative or reductive winemaking that really begins to set styles apart from one another.

Both of these terms refer to the vinification of the base wine. Oxidative winemaking is carried out in a semi-porous vessel most typically oak, but could also be concrete or amphorae. These materials allow for a minute, slow, and steady interaction of the wine with oxygen. Oxidative styles can be equated to nutty, creamy and bruised fruit qualities in the final wine. And if allowed by the winemaker, wines made in this environment more readily undergo malolactic fermentation which further softens the wine and can produce butter, butterscotch, or caramel notes later on.

Reductive winemaking is conducted in an anaerobic vessel, meaning the wine does not make contact with oxygen. This is almost always synonymous with stainless steel tanks, utilizing an inert and neutral gas, in temperature controlled conditions. Reductive winemaking better preserves the youthful fruit character and acid in a wine. You might find the final wine to taste fresh, lifted, and high-toned.

The Hierarchy of Bottle Releases

The Hierarchy of Bottle Releases

There are three bottle distinctions in the leveling of champagne:

  • Nonvintage: a blend of multiple vintages, parcels, and grapes. This entry level distinction usually plays a huge role in establishing the house style.
  • Vintage: only released in exceptional growing years and at the discretion of the winemaking team — houses are never required to declare a vintage cuvée but if they do, the year will be displayed clear on the front label
  • Prestige Cuvée, Tête de Cuvée, Cuvée Speciale: three ways of saying the same thing… the really good stuff. With very little exception, these wines are vintage, often from a single parcel and one variety, and will undergo some duration of extended aging prior to release. The production of a top cuvée will be extremely limited and the edition number will likely be encoded somewhere on the bottle. Often these wines are truly impressive.

The Champagne Houses


Established: 1743

Holdings: Montagne de Reims

Varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier

Style: Reductive; refreshing & polished

Cuvée Prestige: Dom Perignon

Nearly a household name when it comes to Champagne’s finest wines, Moët-Chandon is one of the four co-owners of the luxury brand conglomerate Moët Hennessy Louis Vuiton (LVMH). The glamorous reputation that has accompanied this champagne house over the centuries has been consistently paraded and bolstered by the who’s who of the famous. Moët-Chandon credits itself with inventing the champagne tower and the act of sabering a bottle. 


Established: 1729

Holdings: Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blancs

Varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (only for rosé champagne)

Style: Reductive; rich & leesy

Cuvée Prestige: Dom Ruinart (blanc des blancs)

Ruinart is said to be the first established champagne house in France. It was founded by the monk Dom Ruinart whose nephew, Nicolas Ruinart, officially established the house name in 1729. In keeping with champagne house family tradition, the Dom’s legacy is venerated by the name of their top cuvée. The brand boasts one of the largest networks of crayéres (ancient chalk quarries) in cellar use in the region. (Tours of these extensive chalk cellars can be arranged when visiting the estate and tasting room.) The distinct bottle shape of Ruinart’s champagnes is reflective of the style first used in the region in the 18th century.


Established: 1843

Holdings: Montagne de Reims

Varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier

Style: Oxidative; nutty & deep

Cuvée Prestige: Clos du Mesnil (blanc de blancs), Clos D’Ambonnay (blanc de noirs)

Krug is one of a few major champagne houses founded by German immigrants in the 19th century. Johann-Joseph Krug spent the early years of adulthood with his hand in other major champagne operations of the time, refining the practice before establishing his own name. While Krug is another in the LVMH portfolio, the house, and its proprietary family/team, is well known for having retained autonomy in company vision and winemaking decisions over the years. 

Veuve Clicquot

Established: 1772

Holdings: all five regions of Champagne

Varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier

Style: Oxidative; full & toasty 

Cuvée Prestige: La Grand Dame

Madame Cliquot: she wasn’t the founder but she might as well have been. Not only is she the heralded matriarch of the house, extolled by the tête de cuvée, but she played an important role in the industry at large during her time as commander. Her invention of the pupitre, a specialized rack devised for holding angled bottles, radically streamlined the ridding processes, and she was also the first to ever release a vintage champagne. Excellence persists today with ninety-five percent of the Veuve’s holding representing échelle des crus — top vineyards.


Established: 1776

Holdings: Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blanc, Vallée de la Marne

Varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier

Style: Reductive; fresh & round

Cuvée Prestige: Cristal (blend, 60% Pinot Noir 40% Chardonnay)

One of the few big houses that are truly independent, Roederer tows the line between negociant and manipulant with over two-thirds of its grapes coming from estate vineyards. More than that, they demonstrate that you can be big and still prioritize environmental consciousness — much of proprietary land under vine is tended according to biodynamic principle. The brand was the official supplier of champagne to the Russian Tsar in the late 19th century, an involvement which necessitated the development of a champagne that could satisfy the palate of a finicky royalty: Cristal.


Established: 1818

Holdings: Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blanc, Vallée de la Marne

Varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier

Style: Reductive; aromatic & complex

Cuvée Prestige: Clos Saint-Hilaire (blanc de noirs)

Lauded for its remarkable, pale pink NV rosé champagne first released in 1970, Billecart, as a medium-sized champagne house, significantly focuses on terroir when making decisions in the cellar. No matter where from, or what grape, each parcel is vinified separately in a small vessel. There are other houses that maintain this practice, but Billecart does it in part so that the evolution and development of quality of each vineyard can be studied by the grower and brand alike. Praise for viticultural quality over quantity shows up, too, in the house’s cuvée speciale which comes from a single estate vineyard worked with regenerative farming techniques. 


Established: 1734

Holdings: Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blanc, Vallée de la Marne

Varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier

Style: Reductive; well-structured & precise

Cuvée Prestige: Comtes de Champagne (blanc de blancs)

In it’s three-hundred year history, there was only one (2005-2006) that the Taittinger family forfeited control of the estate. Fiscal difficulties led to its sale to a hotel group, but it was promptly bought back the following year by the third generation Taittinger family members who remain the current owners. Blip aside, Taittinger is a champagne house known for its independence and straddling that divide between champagne growers and negociant. Forty-five percent of the vineyards are estate maintained with the remaining holdings, uniquely, managed by individual growers — one per three hectares.